Rugby League representative arena has been turned into a bloody mess because the game is full of spineless administrators as well as greedy coaches and players.
I have been writing about the absurd eligibility rules within the game for well over a decade now. During that time there have been slightly weird tweaks to the rules, but overall nothing has changed.
The erosion of representative teams started in 1995 when the ARL, NSWRL and QRL were not able to select Super League aligned players in their rep teams. This saw New South Wales and Queensland looking to throw together lineups of players, with Queensland in particular worried that it would not be able to assemble a team that would be competitive at all.
Once the genie was out of the bottle, no one was going to be able to put it back. On the back of eligibility rules that were archaic, Rugby League quickly destroyed the integrity it once had at international level.
The silly thing in all of this is that since 1995 Rugby League has seen the emergence of so many top class players from different parts of the world that it could have a really interesting international scene.
In 1995 the likes of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa could barely put a decent Rugby League 7’s team on the field. There were very few players from any of these countries that were playing professionally.
The United States and Canada were urban legends alongside South Africa and Morocco. The latter two of which were actually complete bullshit.
The Cook Islands? Please. France, well they were a bit of an enigma. PNG, they were committed but hadn’t produced too many quality players just yet.
Hell, even New Zealand at that time were really only a nuisance to Australia once every decade or so and really, only Great Britain could make the Kangaroos lift to a different level. That was all about to change though…
The 2000 World Cup was a complete farce. Australia had pulled away from the pack by a number lengths, New Zealand had pulled ahead of a Great Britain/England team that was in a catastrophic decline, and pretty much every team was made up of a mess of players walking through eligibility loopholes.
There was one good thing however…
There were players who turned out for teams such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Island, PNG and Aotearoa Māori (Yes, a second NZ team competed!) who were young, but who would go on to be very good players in the future.
Lote Tuqiri, Semi Tadulala, Marcus Bai, Stanley Gene, John Wilshere, Fifita Moala, Tevita Vaikona, Lipina Kaufusi, Francis Meli, Clinton Toopi, Paul Rauhihi…even some big kid called Will Mason….they were all pretty much unknown players before the 2000 World Cup and all of them would prove to be very handy professional players, and some of them at one point or another in their careers were considered elite players at the very top of the game.
Following the 2000 Rugby League World Cup we saw an explosion of talent from Pacific Island nations, but due to terrible eligibility rules we saw Australia and New Zealand take the cream of the crop.
This left Pacific Island nations with the “best of the rest”, and when you throw in the fact that many nations were going for years between games, international Rugby League was really only left with strong Australian and New Zealand teams, with every other nation an also-ran.
In 2016 things are slightly better….but not by much. Only Australia and New Zeland can win bthe World Cup. They still pick the best talent that Pacific Island nations produce and leave them with the “best of the rest”.
The only difference is that Australia has eroded it once famed development pathway through the NRL, State Of Origin, and then into the test side, because the opportunity for good Australian players has been cut back as the ARL, NSWRL and QLD parachute in players from other nations.
How can a system that weakens everyone be good?
The residency rule is a complete farce. Living somewhere for 3 years should never allow you to switch your national allegiance. In a professional sporting environment that is the type of rule that should be the first to go.
The “Grandparent” rule that allows you to play for the country your grandparents were born in is similarly ridiculous. Why is that even a rule?
If Rugby League simply got rid of those two rules we would see a representative football moving in the right direction.